1754 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William King of Oxford

Benjamin Kennicott to Samuel Richardson, 9 June 1754; Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Barbauld (1804) 2:188-93.



The triumph of this day being to be improved by harmony, as well as beauty, music with its hundred hands and voices (for I believe the performers, vocal and instrumental, made about that number) begun, ended, and connected the several acts of this day's convocation. And here, effectually to silence every vile whisper of disloyalty, we had Handel's — GOD SAVE THE KING!

Then were presented eleven Doctors of Law, who had been, prudently enough, proposed to us all in the lump, for fear of particular exceptions. What, in the name of wonder! was become of Dr. Jenner, our newly-appointed Professor of Law, that he should desert his station; a station so honourable! so advantageous! — desert it on the very first call to it — on an occasion so very critical, and leave it occupied by Dr. King, who was sure to abuse that very government which had made Jenner professor.

Dr. King begun with telling us — he never intended to have turned orator again; but the insults of his enemies, the entreaties of his honest friends, and the commands of Mr. Vice-Chancellor, had prevailed. Then, his compliments to the High Steward, and the new Doctors — then the wickedness and corruption of the times — times so irreligious (he said) that we were lately about to sell the birth-right of British Christians even to the Jews! — Times, so horribly corrupt, that we had agreed to sell our daughters by the late Marriage Act! Sweet creatures! (as the orator said) it was ten thousand pities such fine girls as then filled the Theatre should be sold by their unnatural parents, and perhaps, (dreadful thought!) even to Whig husbands! But so beautiful, so elegant, were the ladies there assembled, he was sure they were of the right side; and he advised them, as the fair friends of liberty, to wear upon their rings, and embroider upon their garments, this sound maxim — "The man who sells his country, will sell his wife or his daughter." (Upon which there was loud applause, the ladies "clapping their wings," as well as the gentlemen; which the orator called "ominous.") Having done with the ladies, the old gentleman paid his compliments to our High Sheriff, that "unjust Judge"; — concluding, that if the good old cause should have no more justice elsewhere, farewel to British liberty. (This hint taken probably from the late Cry, at Oxford, "No Dashwood! No King!" — And indeed the Doctor is very condescending to take any useful hints, so he can but put them into good Latin: and you see that almost every hint in his speech is taken from that great author, (The London Evening Post.) He talked of "soldiers" — and of "cut-throats" — and of the murder of the poor unarmed "chimney sweeper's boy." He talked of certain "priests" who had lately taught many lessons of perjury; and he could not forget the "informers": — wretches! who had been rewarded with the fattest dignities for violating all private faith, and becoming the public tools of corruption. In short, though philosophers, in the days of yore, had so much agreed to differ about the "summum bonum," yet it was most certainly comprised in the words "friendship" and "liberty." I had forgot to observe, in its proper place, that old gentleman was very explicit in his veneration for every thing "politically antique"; and that he declared loudly against "new chaps of all denominations."

This wonderful oration lasted near half an hour; after which eight gentlemen were barely presented to the degree of Master of Arts, by Mr. Mather, the (regular) university orator.

Then a second Anthem of Handel's — "Let Justice and Judgment be the Preparation of thy Seat," &c.

Then Mr. Mather spoke handsomely from the rostrum, for about an hour, commemorating the principal benefactors of the University; concluding with compliments on Lord Westmoreland, whom, with great justice as well as judgment (considering the occasion) he characterised as "truly loyal, without being servilely dependent, and not more the foe of flattery than of faction."

This speech was succeeded by eleven lines of Mr. Wharton's Commemoration Ode, set to music by Professor Hayes, which concluded the public operations of the day. There was no ball at night, for fear (it was said) of giving offence. But where could be the offence, when almost every person present was "truly blue?" I speak of the out-of-town ladies and gentlemen; for otherwise, I hope you'll do us the justice to believe, there was present no contemptible number "truly green and orange."